What Is Free Will in the Bible?

One of the marks of being human is that God has given us the ability to choose. Some may refer to this as the power of choice, but no matter how you define it, we all have a free will.

When you look at what the Bible says about free will, you discover that we have the right and the ability to choose the direction we will go and what we will do. This power to choose is not something that should be considered lightly, because what comes along with the power to choose is the reality there are consequences for your choices. While many love the freedom that comes with free will and the power of choice, sometimes people don’t always want to own the ramifications that come with it.

What Is Free Will?

Here is one definition of free will from a Scriptural sense: Free will is the power to decide what you will do in a certain situation. However, don’t forget your choices have consequences. Here is an example from Scripture of the free will we have.

“You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

This verse is making an implication that while it is true you have the right to do anything you want, the truth is everything you do is not beneficial for you or for those around you. While you have the right to make your own choices, you must also remember the responsibility that comes with it. To take it a step further, as Christians you must not just think about how your choices affect you, but how your choices affect others. There is something else the Bible says about free will that we sometimes want to overlook. Look at the very next verse in 1 Corinthians 10:

“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

While we do have free will as Christians, we must remember we don’t live in a vacuum. If you are going to be a true follower of Christ, then you must exercise your free will with the reality of how your choices will impact other people.

What Does the Bible Say about Free Will?

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about free will. Here are three examples of free will for you to chew on.

1. We have free will to decide who we will serve.

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).

2. We have free will to decide if we will obey or disobey.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

3. We have free will to decide between life or death.

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

Why Do Christians Disagree about Whether or Not We Have Free Will?

While most people will not necessarily debate the free will we have in making moral choices, there is another debate among believers as to whether we truly have free will in our salvation. Is salvation already pre-determined?

When it comes to salvation there are things the Bible says about free will that may cause some to imply we have no choice in our salvation decision. Here are two scriptures to consider.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

These two verses highlight the challenge of understanding what the Bible says about free will in regards to your salvation. If we are all predestined with no choice in the matter, then how can you say God is being just, if he has taken away our choice? However, the Bible clearly uses the word predestined, which means determined in advance. I know there are great theological debates on this topic, but I want to present a more simplistic argument that I believe helps us understand what predestination means as it applies to salvation. 

When you look at the verse in Romans 8, it says God foreknew. This means God knew in advance those who would choose to follow him and those who would choose not to follow him. The ones he knew in advance are the ones he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. In other words, God’s predestining is based on his foreknowledge, not his random selection. This understanding allows God to remain just and still hold people accountable for their choices.

Without this understanding, then salvation is a random act and God chooses who he will save and who he will not, removing our free will from the process. I don’t think the rest of Scripture can completely support that argument. 

Why Does This Matter?

There are many places in Scripture that cause us to ask questions where we may not be certain of the answer. This is one of them. The best we can do right now is look through a glass dimly and ascertain from Scripture what we believe to be true. Ultimately what we know is this – regardless of how you view predestination, the Bible is clear: we have a choice to make. There are too many places in Scripture that point to our free will in making the decision to follow Christ. With your eternal destination at stake, it makes sense when it comes to your salvation that you choose wisely. This matters more than anything else. 

The question of free will is probably a debate we will have until Jesus comes again. While you can find arguments on both sides of this question, this should not be our main mission or focus. We have a responsibility to preach the gospel and give people the opportunity to hear it and respond. Whether it is predestination or free will, that does not change what we are supposed to be doing.

Since we are probably not going to agree on the answer in this life anyway, let’s focus on what we can agree on, and that is the message of the gospel and its power to change lives. Let’s not get distracted by whether it is free will or not, and let’s make the gospel available to as many people as possible. That I believe is the responsible thing to do. We do have a choice as to whether we will do that or not.

Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.

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